Learning to SailA Richmond area couple drove down to the York River to learn how to sail. Kate Riley sailed a Sunfish once and wanted to try a bigger boat. She got the full experience in a steady breeze of 10 mph that enabled us to sail under the Coleman Bridge to see the Navy submarine still in port. Evidently they are working on the missile tubes.

Learning to SailKate handled the boat adroitly on the close reach and beam reach, going to the latter to steady the boat in wind gusts. They work together for Kickstart Specialists, a consultant firm. “We do a lot teambuilding for small business and municipal government,” Kate explained without losing concentration on the wheel. “We ask five key questions of everyone on the team to find the strengths and weaknesses of the operation. One woman manager who scored poorly was shocked by the findings and took our advice to heart. By the time we were done, the follow-up scores showed that she had moved from 3s and 4s on a scale of 10 to 7s and 8s. Stories like that make our work very rewarding.”

Eventually I sent them up to the bow with their bottle of wine to enjoy a little romantic interlude. Afterward, I surprised Kate by asking her if she was a musician since they get sailing so quickly. Turns out she’s a pianist.

Learning to SailA few days later the exact situation was replicated, but this time with two dogs along. Lyn and Eric Park live and work in Northern Virginia, and they always dreamed of owning a sailboat. First, they had to learn. Actually, first we needed wind. With their two pets, we sat in the middle of the York River waiting for the wind to pipe up. As surprise, five small pods of dolphins showed up, criss-crossing in front of the bow and behind. We could hear them before we saw them. They too were learning to sail.

Learning to SailSure enough, there it was off in the distance, moving from the Bay in an easterly direction. Soon we were underway, tacking across the river and back. Then we turned downwind and threw the spinnaker up, which was amazing to them. I sent the couple up to the bow while taking care of  Milo (Lab puppy) and Chewy (Tsit sue wannabe).

Learning to Sail

We were going to hang around for the exit of the Navy submarine leaving NWS, but they had to get back. I was tipped off by a Moran tug lumbering up the middle of the river to meet his partner tug at Yorktown. I radioed an inquiry about fetching the sub, and the captain cheerfully replied, “Yup!”

Later I sent the Parks links for renting sailboats along the Virginia coast, nearer to home. I’ve rarely encountered a couple so eager to learn and to feel the excitement of the building wind. “It just seems like a wonderful way to spend the day,” Eric said. “The serenity, the nature, the wonder of it all.”

Returning with Friends

John and Jessica returned with another coupleW&M faculty professors John Lombardini and Jessica Paga returned from earlier this year with a new couple. Glenn Koslowsky went to high school with John in New Jersey and now is a professional photographer who does weddings and projects. “I’ll shoot maybe 2,000 photos at a wedding and edit them down to 500. The next step is to get the best 125.” He answered some vexing questions I had about my own camera and changed several settings for the better. “I’m working on a project to photograph every item in a supermarket for a digital library. In nine months, four of us have shot 15,000 items among around 25,000 total.” Do you have to go shopping? “No, they deliver the goods to us. And then we can eat them,” he grinned. He was learning to sail well.

Anna treated Dave on his 50thIn the afternoon, we replicated the morning trip by tacking downriver in brisk winds and building waves. Anna Collins was treating her husband Dave on his 50th birthday, and they brought their son Gabe along. Anna seemed apprehensive. “I hope this is better than last time. Eight or nine years ago I took an adult sailing class on the Potomac. Maybe the instructors were too young, but they seemed like they were competing against each other in a race and didn’t pay attention to the weather. I saw a huge black cloud coming down the river. We got hit by a terrific thunderstorm and lightning. We grounded the boats and had to tramp up the coast of the river — in the dark. It took me a while to process what happened and haven’t been a boat since then. Fortunately the sailing went well and we put up the spinnaker, only to see the wind die. We drifted back for an hour. It was all part of learning to sail.

Dave coaches a rowing teamWhile mother and son hung out on the bow under the spinnaker, Dave and I got to talking about his coaching job of a rowing team. He mentioned several factors that go into a good team, notably tall and lanky kids instead of stout, because good rowers need leverage on the seat. I asked about his own career and he casually mentioned high school teams, college and Olympics.” Wait. Olympics? “Atlanta Games of 1984. We came in third,” he said modestly. What separated you in the bronze medal from the gold? “3.2 seconds.” He saw my look of amazement. “It’s bigger than it seems, 35 feet actually.”

Let’s Try Learning to Sail

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